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The Concept Of Prana In Yoga

Prana the life energy

Prana In Yoga 

There is no single English word to convey the meaning of the Sanskrit word prana, the nearest word in English is probably “life energy” or “vital energy” that permeates the whole universe and our bodies. The breath that goes in and out of our bodies connect the microcosm within to the macrocosm and if one breath that goes out does not come back life is finished, isn’t it? Prana is in a way our real Mother in whom we are born, sustained and to whom we go back to. The inhalation is the inspiration for life itself and exhalation is the main expiration of toxins from our biological system that keeps us alive and conscious. Breath, like a power plug acts as the source of our entire energy supply to every cell. 

The Absolute Principles & Prana

According to Yoga and Sankhya metaphysics there are two absolute principles in the universe- energy and consciousness, Prakriti and Purusha. The energy runs all organic phenomena along with the human organism in the universe. Really Prana is the “energy of consciousness” and inseparable from consciousness. All activities with our mind are accomplished by ‘chit-shakti’ or the energy of consciousness. Consciousness is the chit shakti which is the power of awareness but they are always together making this universe work!

The Absolute Principles & Prana

A living creature is called Prani in sanskrit because its inner and outer organs are created by the Prana or energy that animates it. A living being is what possesses a prana, and when one dies we say the prana has left the body. According to ancient text Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we can chart an inward course back to speech, breath, and vital energy (prana), and ultimately to the Self, or Brahman.  

When the body and mind grow weak, the Self gathers in all the powers of life and descends with them into the heart. As prana leaves the eye, it ceases to see. 

“He/she is becoming one,” says the wise; “he/she does not see. He/she is becoming one; he/she no longer hears. He/she is becoming one; he/she no longer speaks, or tastes, or smells, or thinks, or knows.” By the light of the heart the Self leaves the body by one of its gates; and when he/she leaves, prana follows, and with it all the vital powers of the body. He/she who is dying merges in consciousness, and thus consciousness accompanies him when he/she departs, along with the impressions of all that he has done, experienced, and known.

Prana As An Explanation For The Process Of Life

Prana As An Explanation For The Process Of Life

Prana also provides an explanation for the process we call death, as prana, life-energy, is withdrawn by progressive steps – the same kind of steps by which the universe itself was manifested and will be withdrawn – into its ultimate source (Brihadaranyaka VI.15). This prepares us for the triumphant declaration of Chapter VIII, the “City of Brahman,” a moving description of Brahmaloka, the “Land of No Change” beyond all death and suffering. While we actually visit this state without knowing it while in deep sleep (Brihadaranyaka VI.8.1 and VIII.3.2), we can possess it in full awareness through the heroic spiritual disciplines the Upanishads are always leading us to. We can live in this very world free from sorrow, ill health, perturbation, distress of any kind; and then for us death, while it claims the body, will never touch us because we are identified completely with the Self, which is a “bridge” or “bulwark” (Brihadaranyaka VIII.4) none of these can cross.

In Chandogya Upnishad, it’s mentioned the process of passing:

“When a man is dying, his family All gather round and ask, ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ And so long as his speech Has not merged in mind, his mind in prana, Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being. Chandogya Upnishad 15.1

He knows them all. But there is no more knowing When speech merges in mind, mind in prana, Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being. Chandogya Upnishad 15.2

But it’s in Prasna Upnishad that the subject of Prana is discussed comprehensively and makes it its theme! Using the concept of prana the Upanishads slowly develop a comprehensive theory of life which accounts for everything from health to morality. Thus the questions and answers can become more penetrating, and the sweep of reality to be explained more ample, as this great concept is explored. Pippalada’s answer goes on to categorize the five pranas known in vital functioning, with their macrocosmic equivalents: 

3 After a year Kabandhi asked the sage: “Master, who created the universe?” 

4 The sage replied: “The Lord meditated and brought forth prana With rayi, the giver of name and form: Male and female, so that they would bring forth Innumerable creatures for him. 

5 “Prana is the sun; rayi is the moon. Matter is solid, matter is subtle; Rayi therefore is present everywhere. 

6–7 “The sun gives light and life to all who live, East and west, north and south, above, below; It is the prana of the universe.

Prana is also explained as the one common basis for all cases of genuine mystical experience and also one common basis for the manifestation of genius or paranormal faculties in human beings, whether in art, literature, intelligence or courage in human beings.


Traditional Method Of Understanding And Mastering Prana

The traditional method of understanding and mastering the science of breath is a very deep and developed subject in the Indian Yogic tradition and must be learned directly from an accomplished master. The practice of breathing exercises can cause serious damages to the digestive system which in turn can cause fatal issues. The two key points to remember always is to use the stomach/diaphragm to actually inhale and deep breathing with a longer expiration, which are the safest and healthiest techniques anyone can practice.

“Verily by air, as by a thread, this world, the other world and all beings are held together.”- Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

Upanishads take a deeper look at the connection of the energy, mind and body and how we can understand the different processes in the light of the concept of Prana,which is the most subtle unit of energy, in fact the ancient yogic texts mention life is organized within us in a sheath of vitality- “pranamaya kosha” that interfaces the body and mind. This is the missing link in the western modern science which is looking for this link under a microscope. This energy sheath is also what we use to create a dream world during sleep as per Brihadaranya Upanishad:

It is said of these states of consciousness that in the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self, who never dreams, who is ever awake, watches by his own light the dreams woven out of past deeds and present desires. In the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self keeps the body alive with the vital force of prana, and wanders wherever he wills. In the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self assumes many forms, eats with friends, indulges in sex, and sees fearsome spectacles. Brihadaranya Upanishad 4.11–13

Vivekananda in his book Raja Yoga summarize the concept and significance of the idea of Prana which was studied by the ancient sages in a modern way: 

By what power is this Akasha manufactured into this universe? By the power of Prana. Just as Akasha is the infinite, omnipresent material of this universe, so is this Prana the infinite, omnipresent manifesting power of this universe. At the beginning and at the end of a cycle everything becomes Akasha, and all the forces that are in the universe resolve back into the Prana: in the next cycle, out of this Prana is evolved everything that we call energy, everything that we call force. It is the Prana that is manifesting as motion, it is the Prana that is manifesting as gravitation, as magnetism. It is the Prana that is manifesting as the actions of the body, as the nerve currents, as the thought force. From thought down to the lowest force, everything is but the manifestation of Prana. The sum total of all forces in the universe, mental or physical, when resolved back to their original state, is called Prana.”

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